LSC Updates - September 11, 2008
The Legal Services Corporation and the American Red Cross will work more closely together during disaster relief operations to strengthen assistance provided to disaster victims, officials announced on September 9.
LSC and the Red Cross entered into a memorandum of understanding that provides a framework for partnership and cooperation between the two organizations in rendering assistance to disaster victims and other services. Significantly, the memo includes a provision stating that, "Advocates employed by LSC grant recipients will have access to the Red Cross Service Delivery sites to conduct legal counseling."
The memorandum of understanding was signed by Helaine M. Barnett, President of LSC, and Kevin M. Brown, the Chief Operating Officer of the national American Red Cross.
"This agreement will enhance efforts by programs funded by LSC to provide legal assistance to people affected by natural disasters and who may have lost their homes and all their possessions," Helaine Barnett said. "LSC thanks the Red Cross for helping establish this new collaborative approach, which will speed our outreach and services during disasters."
"The Red Cross looks forward to partnering with LSC programs so that collectively we may better serve all communities during disasters," Kevin Brown said. "This new framework will help enhance disaster response activities by both organizations."
National Disaster Legal Aid, a new Web site, has been launched to help individuals and attorneys address legal issues that arise in the aftermath of major disasters, such as hurricanes and floods. The Web site, www.disasterlegalaid.org, has been designed as a resource and information center for individuals, attorneys, aid organizations and volunteers who encounter legal issues following hurricanes, floods and other disasters. The site includes information on legal rights and links to organizations that provide legal and disaster assistance.
The American Bar Association, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, Pro Bono Net and LSC have collaborated to create the new site and plan to improve it over the next two months so that it will become a comprehensive source of information on legal assistance for people affected by disasters and attorneys who handle disaster-related issues. The National Disaster Legal Aid Web site expands on the 2005 Katrina Legal Aid Web site, created following the devastation in the Gulf Coast states.
The Legal Services Corporation has announced the appointment of Janet LaBella as director of the LSC Office of Program Performance, effective Sept. 15.
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett said, "Janet LaBella brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in the delivery of civil legal aid services to the poor and to this important office, where she will be a key member of the Corporation's senior management team."
Karen J. Sarjeant, LSC vice president for programs and compliance, praised LaBella as "a strong advocate and manager who brings essential leadership skills to our work at LSC."
LaBella, a program counsel in the Office of Program Performance, joined LSC in June 2004. She came to LSC with more than 22 years of experience working with public interest and civil legal services organizations. LaBella began her legal services career at the District of Columbia Legal Aid Society in the housing and consumer office and later managed a regional office at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau for nearly 15 years.
The Board of Directors of the Acadiana Legal Service Corporation of Lafayette, La., has adopted a resolution to increase the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of civil legal services to their clients, bringing to 96 the total number of LSC-funded programs who have adopted such resolutions.
LSC is encouraging all program Boards of Directors to adopt pro bono resolutions modeled after one adopted by LSC's Board in April 2007. Urging programs to adopt local resolutions is a key element of LSC's private attorney involvement action plan, entitled "Help Close the Justice Gap, Unleash the Power of Pro Bono."
In only its second year, the Chicago Bar Foundation's Investing in Justice Campaign raised more than $1 million for local legal aid programs and pro bono projects thanks in large part to contributions from private law firms and corporate legal departments. The campaign, which began in 2007, wound up its second year in May after receiving donations from more than 40 firms and corporations-a 50 percent increase in participation from the previous year. "The success of this year's Campaign is a real tribute to the dedication and support of our Campaign leadership and the growing number of lawyers and other legal professionals who so generously contributed to this effort, and it will make a real difference in the lives of our colleagues and in legal aid and the many thousands of vulnerable Chicagoans who depend on them," said campaign chairman Dan Webb, partner in the law firm of Winston & Strawn. Webb's firm was one of the leading contributors to the campaign, with more than 240 attorneys participating.
Indiana Legal Services is launching a new foreclosure legal assistance project with funding from the Institute for Foreclosure Legal Assistance, a joint project of the Center for Responsible Lending and National Association of Consumer Advocates, which was launched last year with a $15 million grant from an investment management firm. Indiana Legal Services is one of about 15 LSC-funded programs to receive grants from the institute. The legal aid group's new project will initially focus on providing services in the northern part of the state, especially in the South Bend area, which has a high number of subprime mortgages. Two attorneys will provide services out of the program's South Bend Office and one attorney will provide services out of the Gary office. "The mortgage foreclosure issue is significant throughout Indiana, but also in northern Indiana and in the general South Bend area," said Ron Gyure, resource development director for the program. "We saw this funding as an opportunity to create a special project in an office where we have strong supervision, strong attorney support, and thought we could make a real difference."
"Who's putting a price on free legal aid?" asks the American Bar Association in a recent ABA Journal article. The answer: online "entrepreneurs" seeking to profit from unsophisticated internet users searching for free legal aid. How do they do it? The methods vary, but a popular one called "cybersquatting" involves registering domain names similar to ones used by legitimate legal aid groups and using them to host Web sites advertising for-profit services. The article cites the example of the LSC-funded statewide legal aid Web site in Arkansas, www.arlegalservices.org, which provides free legal forms and educational materials. Go to the same address but replace the ".org" with ".com" and a site appears that simply provides lists of links to commercial Web sites. Cui bono? Who benefits? The owner of the site likely receives a small amount of money per click, which, when multiplied by thousands of clicks, can begin to add up. Who loses? Clearly, the potential legal aid client who can not find the information she needs suffers from these practices, but so do the legal aid programs struggling to control their online identities. The article notes that the Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project has found that nearly half of all LSC-funded programs are victims of cybersquatting.
The Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project, or NTAP, is hosting a free training session on September 19 to familiarize legal aid lawyers with how the internet, new media, and new technologies are shaping the lives of legal aid clients and transforming the delivery of legal services. The session will be conducted via the LegalMeetings Web conferencing system and is open to all staff from legal aid programs. NTAP is partially funded by LSC's Technology Initiative Grants program. Its mission is to help legal aid programs improve client services through effective and innovative use of technology.
The LSC Resource Information (LRI) is an online clearinghouse of best practices, model projects, and other resources for LSC-funded programs.
Legal Services Alabama has helped develop a handbook to educate renters on their rights and responsibilities under the state's year-old landlord-tenant law-Alabama's first comprehensive set of rules governing the legal relationship between the two groups. The handbook, created in partnership with Alabama Appleseed and the Arise Citizen's Policy Project, provides guidance to tenants on what to do before signing a lease, how to be a responsible tenant, what landlords are required to do to maintain a habitable dwelling, and what to do in case of eviction. The handbook also includes information on federal fair housing laws and where to seek legal assistance if necessary. The user-friendly handbook is written in plain English, includes a glossary of certain legal terms, and is interspersed with cartoons.
Legal aid is about helping ordinary people with real-life problems. Client stories illustrate the day-to-day struggles-and victories-of poor Americans seeking justice under law.
Becoming one of the millions of uninsured Texans can be only an injury away.
Just ask Bob Crawford.
Bob spent years laboring at a station changing old tires on industrial trucks and equipment. He moved hundreds of pounds of rubber tires all day, every day, and regularly went out on the road to put tires on tractor trailer trucks that had broken down.
In this rural East Texas city, jobs are scarce, and at 45, this proud working man found himself at the wrong end of the economic spectrum, suffering debilitating back injuries from years of hard labor and unable to perform the strenuous work he once could.
Two doctors, including a neurosurgeon, told Bob he needed immediate surgery; otherwise, the ruptured discs in his back would leave him paralyzed or worse, dead. His doctors ordered an MRI to determine the extent of the damage done to his spinal cord and chart what other surgeries may be necessary.
But Bob's health care coverage lapsed, and despite multiple efforts to get health care at the County Hospital, he never received a written determination on his application. The County Hospital refused to pay for Bob's MRI. Shortly thereafter, he was denied SSI benefits.
Lone Star Legal Aid immediately accepted this emergency case, quickly contacting the Hospital District Administrator and demanding the client's request for care. The Hospital District relented and paid for an MRI. It also made arrangements with the University of Texas Medical Branch to set up Bob's back surgery, with the expenses covered by the District. Luckily, before the surgery appointment, we won the client's SSI case. We told Bob that Medicaid would cover all his medical expenses in the future, so he would never have to worry about his health care coverage again.
Note: This story originally appeared in Lone Star Legal Aid's recently-released 2007 Annual Report. Download the full report to learn more about the program and read more stories about clients it has helped.
The client success story in the August 28 issue of LSC Updates was incorrectly attributed to Utah Legal Services. In fact, the story featured a client represented by the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. The error has been corrected on LSC's Web site. Click here for the corrected version.